Ways to manage your health in times of stress
In times of stress our health can be the first thing we start to let go, when it is the time our body needs us most. Stress is a reaction to a change or challenge. Stress can be helpful in the short term to help us get things done or flee from danger, but if stress becomes ongoing it can be harmful to our physical and mental health.
There are activities we can do to help our body cope better during stressful times and reduce the impact chronic stress can have on our overall health.
How stress impacts our health
During stressful events, your body releases chemicals called hormones, (1) such as adrenaline and cortisol. Adrenaline gives you a burst of energy, increasing your heart rate and blood pressure and cortisol increases your blood sugar level ready for your body to ‘fight’.
Some of the signs you are experiencing stress include headaches, lack of energy, trouble sleeping and gut upset, along with many other symptoms as people react to stress differently.
You may have heard of the saying ‘gut feeling’, times when you feel butterflies in your stomach, or your stomach feels like it is in knots? Our gut and brain are connected via the gut brain axis. This involves the central nervous system, like a freeway connecting them, with traffic increasing during times of stress. Stress can cause disruption (2) to the gut-brain-axis which may lead to gastrointestinal disorders. (2). Activities that reduce the flow of thoughts such as meditation, deep breathing and exercise can be useful practices to adopt. Headspace offer a quick activity. Follow this link (3) to try.
There are some things we can do that may reduce the impact stress has on our health. Let’s stand up for our health and take charge.
Make time for health
The first thing is we need to dedicate time. In your diary block out time, like you do appointments as these activities are important for your health. Whether that be:
- 10 minutes break in between meetings (let’s face it meetings go over and it is likely to be only 5minutes, so block out 10 to get 5,) for some deep belly breathing, a stretch, a glass of water and maybe a snack.
- Shopping time (whether online or going) so you have the nourishing food easily available to eat. This could be fun if visiting a market with the family or friend. It doesn’t need to be a chore.
- Cooking and food prep time. A few minutes in the morning to think about what you will be having for snacks, lunch and dinner that day. It might mean cutting up some fruit and veggies to snack on during the day, refilling your container with nuts. It could be cooking with someone in the household on the weekend to get a few dishes ready for the week. It could become a Sunday ‘funday’ arvo ritual?
- Body movement activities, whether it be a walk with a friend, a gym session, dancing, gardening, yoga or bike a ride; whatever you enjoy
- Bedtime- sleep is critical for our body to rejuvenate and we manage with stress much better when our body has had enough rest
- Down time- some time to do nothing much, listen to music, read a book, sit and look out the window, listen to a guided meditation; quiet time.
Eat well to combat the impact of stress
During stressful periods quick fixes are often what we look for. Things that will give us a quick pick me up such as alcohol, confectionary and potato chips etc. These might give a momentary pleasure however often leave us feeling sluggish afterwards. All foods are suitable sometimes however nourishing yourself with plenty of fresh fruits, vegetables, lean meats, nuts, wholegrains and dairy foods will give your body the nutrients it needs to restore.
Eating foods that will help feed our good gut bacteria may help our body reduce the risk of gastrointestinal issues. Plant foods from wholegrains, legumes, nuts, fruits and vegetables provide dietary fibre, some of which the good gut bacteria ferment into gases important for the health of our gut and that enter the blood stream to influence many aspects of our health including the immune system and our mental health.
We can also add in beneficial bacteria to our gut, probiotics, with food such as Rokeby Farms Probiotic- Filmjolk, to help with the health of our gut.
Swapping alcohol for water, soda water, Kombucha, smoothies or milk is a good place to start to boost your mood and to take care of your gut. Alcohol is a depressant and can cause inflammation, so excess drinking regularly may catch up with you negatively.
Some simple things you can do:
- Choose wholegrain bread mostly over white
- Eat 2 pieces of fruit per day
- Include a handful of nuts a day
- Add vegetables to all of your meals- even breakfast- tomatoes, mushrooms, spinach
- Choose water as your main drink
- Include some probiotic containing foods in your diet
- Keep the added sugar intake in your diet down, choose quality over quantity with your cake, chocolate and other high sugar foods.
If you feel stress is getting the better of you there is help available:
- Mental Health Foundation Australia National Mental Health Helpline 1300 MHF AUS (643 287)
- Lifeline13 11 14
- Kids Helpline1800 55 1800
- Suicide Helpline1300 651 251
- Anxiety Recovery Centre Victoria: OCD and Anxiety Helpline Tel. (03) 9830 0533or 1300 ANXIETY (269 438)